Stay-at-home

I was reading an article the other day on the “new trend” of dads being primary caregivers which is trotted out as a new trend in the news cycle every couple years. I have yet to figured out why this happens. Someday I will do a longitudinal study of the timing of the articles and see if it correlates to season (its slow around here so lets throw in more human interest stories) or national events like a woman getting a glass-ceiling breaking job (see Yahoo, pregnant CEO.)

The story kept referring to the dads as “at home dads” which struck me as wrong somehow. It took reading it twice, and asking my husband to remind me whats the term for women who don’t work, to figure it out.  Women who’s sole job is to care for the children are called “stay-at-home moms” but in this article about the dads they had dropped the “stay”.

Is this a signal that its only a temporary choice for these dads to do the child care? Is this the lens that is necessary so as to view the 5 – 7 year career break (until the last kid is in all-day kindergarten) as neutral or positive? Maybe dropping the “stay” will create the halo effect necessary to make daddy child care a feasible choice for more men. But they still have to explain the gap in work record – will that be perceived as a positive or negative?

Usually men get bonus points for things that ding women. A married man gets a career bump as a “breadwinner” and will be offered a higher salary than a single woman, a married woman and even a single mother. (And I am sick of having to prove this junk over and over so kindly look up the articles & studies yourself if you don’t believe me.)

Men get gold stars for leaving work to attend a child’s performance or sport event, women sneak out or use personal/sick time because they will be perceived as “less committed to their jobs”. Its not fair, or 100% universal behavior, or even visible, which is why there are always backlash reactions (from women and men) about how ‘my work place is not like that’, but it probably is. These are cultural and institutional biases and attitudes not policy in an HR handbook.

Will men using FMLA start to shift the “mommy biases” that work against career women? Or will stay-at-home dad be frowned upon once the economy picks up again. I don’t think there are enough of them to start making a difference yet. The article I read quoted increases based on census numbers. When you say “32% of men with working wives took care of a child at least one day a week in 2010” its sounds impressive.  When you say “3.4% of all stay-at-home parents nationwide are dads”, it puts it more in perspective.

The reason the article about dads got me thinking was I had just read a Forbes piece about how 65% of the women in a new study rejected the idea of being a Supermom. Sounds like good news if you forget about that 35% of Enjoli women still out there. The article, “Forget Supermoms – Its All About Smart Moms”, says todays moms are smart, comfortable, confident, in control, empowered and are not “overwhelmed victims”. Problem solved.

But then I got to the last paragraph that showcased and reinforced the cultural bias and expectations:

“That’s not to say there still isn’t tremendous pressure on both working and nonworking moms to do right by their children; navigate a deluge of information, advice and opinion spawned by the social web; and simultaneously keep their households, relationships, and work lives intact. They just have more resources now to tap to ultimately make decisions that are right for them and for their families”

So its still your fault if you feel overwhelmed – We gave you all the resources dammit!

No matter how much I dug I could not come up with the methods of the “study”. It was done by McCann Truth Central, an arm of the McCann worldwide advertising agency.  They have a facebook page, a blog, a website and a tumblr but no additional information about their “global thought leadership” methods or purpose. Seems to me that a “truth study” about Moms generated by an ad agency is probably to help clients market products to moms.

That’s fine, market away. But being in Forbes makes it news, which means it will get repeated, like the telephone game, and no longer be attributed to an ad agency. And we wonder where the pressure and mommy myths come from.

I continue to be fascinated by how society shapes the narrative about the roles of men and women. What is acceptable, what is an anomaly, what is the gold standard at this very moment. Because you know it will change. These two stories – “at home dads” and smart & competent moms who are so beyond the “Super” label – are the latest threads I am following.

Someday (in 2042?) I will read a paragraph like this in Forbes

“That’s not to say there still isn’t tremendous pressure on both working and nonworking dads to do right by their children; navigate a deluge of information, advice and opinion spawned by the social web; and simultaneously keep their households, relationships, and work lives intact.”

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